A salute to the Cannonball Read and the Readers, for bringing this book into my brain. Holy crap, you guys. So good.
Honestly, I had been expecting (and bracing myself for) something super duper effed up, based on the reviews that I had skimmed (to avoid spoilers). And yeah, it’s dark and horrifying and confusing and complex, but still really fricking readable.
Here’s what I texted about 20 of my closest friends when I was halfway through and couldn’t stop reading last night: “It’s as if Margaret Atwood wrote a Neil Gaiman book.”
And here’s what I mean by that: this is a world that Neil Gaiman easily might have created… wildly imaginative, dark and scary, full of magic (though, as one of the characters in this story, full of magic herself says, “magic doesn’t exist”), hugely epic, and completely believable. And yet, it’s not as comforting or whimsical as Gaiman’s writing can be (for me). I say it’s as if Margaret Atwood wrote it, because there is a very hard edge to the whole thing; it’s horror fantasy, but so emotionally real that it’s really hard to blink. I had to finish it all in one sitting (truth!) because I didn’t want to have to sit with the lingering unfinished story in my mind too long. I needed a conclusion and a resolution, to avoid an ulcer.
I realize I haven’t really gone into the plot for you. I’m not sure I would know where to start. A lot of the exposition comes in a series of interludes at breathing points along the way, and I don’t want to horribly spoil anyone who’s going to jump in on the book, because the discovery and clarification is really well-styled. Broad strokes: a group of twelve 30-something people, adopted by Father two decades ago, have been trained by him in very specific, non-overlapping fields. These masters of the twelve disciplines are a family, and when Father goes missing, they suspect one of his enemies of making a play to usurp his rule of the universe, and they engage with the “American” world in an attempt to find and save him.
The prose is delightful and smart. I pulled a ton of quotes as potential review titles. The one I picked (see above), I picked because I had to. If I could have, I would have quoted the entire book. I also celebrate that it’s fabulously feminist, just foundationally, and I don’t know who this fellow is or where he comes from, but I’d like to thank him for being so thoughtful about violence towards women (physical and emotional), and the capacity of women to be strong but complicated and possibly broken, without judgement.
Also, don’t miss the chapter titles. Two of my favorites include “Chapter 6: About Half a Fuckton of Lying-Ass Lies” and “Chapter 11: Notes on the Subjugation of the Martially Superior Foe.”
And never forget: “Stay away from windows. And if you see people with tentacles, stay away. Don’t let them touch you.”